Gilded Serpent presents...
Remembrance and Requiem: the Best "School" That Ever Was,
Morocco/ Carolina Varga
privately in the '60s, training many dancers. Jobs were still
plentiful and well-paying. In 1968, Rosetta Le Noire,
with whom I'd worked in the Broadway musical, "I Had a Ball",
made a proposal I couldn't refuse: "Teach a weekly class
at my school or I'll never speak to you again!" OK. I did.
For 7 years. I started teaching master classes for other schools
in 1972. In the mid 1970s, I was invited to teach a 3-credit course
in Mideastern Dance and Culture for the State University of New
York, with a concert by myself and the students at the end of
each year. 'Loved it, but
it ended after 3 years, when the Dance Division had severe cutbacks
and all the ethnic dance courses were cut. So I bit the bullet
and opened my own school, in my small apartment, in 1976. Moved
to a loft in '79, so I could have a bigger studio, and when harrassed
out of there (some things haven't changed enough yet!), to West
15th Street and now on West 20th Street
- and so it goes . . .
to Dr. Paul Monty for coming up with a wonderful
concept in the early '70s. One that I firmly believe set us on
the path that brought this Art to its current status and international
popularity: he was the first to envision and take the professional
and financial risks involved in producing large-scale Mideastern
dance seminars/ conventions with evening concerts all over the
and making master teachers of Ibrahim Farrah, Dahlena,
myself and several others. Many followed his lead in their local
areas, producing seminars featuring the "stars" Dr Monty created
and/or teaching themselves. This was to become became my favorite
teaching arena and a great opportunity to share my hard won knowledge
on a wider scale, first all over the U.S.and Canada and now most
of the world: from Casablanca, Morocco and Cairo, Egypt to England,
Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Finland, Italy, Australia,
Israel, Brazil and all over Germany, meeting so many wonderful
people, who share my love of this field.
King Hassan II
I worked long
and hard to try and come up with a teaching method that would
make the dances more easily learned and remembered. Serendipity
again presented the solution: Lucy Smith/ Scheherezade
and the Women of Selket invited me to teach in Richmond,
Virginia. That seminar would be held in a very large Mason's hall,
great for the large crowd that would be there, but the sound system
was waaaaaay over there on the other side of the 80' long room:
how to work it so that I wasn't running the 2 minute mile every
3 minutes or so? What to do about rewinding?
wracking my brain, I came up with the idea of recording the
music for the dance I would be teaching by musical phrases,
for the requisite amount of repetitions, so I'd only need
the tape turned on and off for each section, with no rewinding.
Takes forever to do that sort of teaching tape, but it's well
worth it and it worked.
If it weren't
for the problem, I might never have found that method/ solution!
While I wasn't the first to come up with the "weeklong" concept,
the joy of teaching these seminars lead to my scheduling and teaching
my own weeklong intensives, at which even more can be shared.
I was frustrated,
in those early days, because most seminar attendees insisted on
nurturing the mass of mythical malarkey abounding at the time and
wouldn't believe me, when I'd tell the real story of the real dances.
I started showing the research films I'd made on some of my trips
and organizing dance-packed tours (again, the first to do so) to
prove that the reality was, indeed, far better and more varied
than the fantasy.
to Morocco -- for genuine "tribal" dance, but certainly not
by that name nor bearing any resemblance to the wonderful American
invention -from 1976-90, when King Hassan II
changed the Marrakesh Folk Festival from May/June to
September and then dropped it altogether. (They say they're
doing it again: we'll see!)
- Then, from
1978 to '93, Egypt for the many real "Egyptian" styles
of Oriental dance, the authentic folklore of the Firq'a Masr
el Samer and the wonderfully creative folk-based theater
dances of the Reda and Kawmiyya troupes.
- We were
honored to be the first tour groups to have
classes with Ustaz Mahmoud
Reda and real traditional performers like Khairiyya
Maazin, Nazla el Adel and Oriental
dance star Nadia Hamdi.
- We had
private haflas with the real Banat
Maazin Ghawazi and their musicians: Mohamed
Murad and his group and got up and danced with them
(1978-93). This was an interesting contrast against settling
for the often anemic fantasies inspired by Orientalist
paintings. I insisted on the highest standards of quality
and quantity in dance events on my trips and wouldn't settle
for less, so these trips were very successful. I stopped because
of the current almost total disappearance of the Cairo dance
scene - due more to lack of regular big spenders from the Gulf
and the Levant in the audience, than to any sort of "fundamentalism",
though that, too, is a mitigating factor. I won't promote a
trip as packed with top quality Egyptian dance, when there isn't
enough there now to fill two weeks.
1999 - UNESCO ICHPER-SD: I was a keynote speaker, gave my
paper on Dance as Community Identity and performed Guedra
at the Museum of Natural History, 1987
(with my Casbah Dance Experience)
I began writing
articles to help dispel the myths about Raks Sharki and
other Mideastern dances for international
medical and feminist magazines way back in 1964. There were no
publications specifically for Mideastern dancers/ afficionados
until the early mid '70s - I wrote for several. Many of my articles
have been translated and printed in other countries, in other
A few are posted under "Articles" on my website. I'm still threatening
to get started on the Opus Magnus everybody's been urging
me to write ("How to Evade an Expectorating Camel"©.
. .) Waiting for the Statute of Limitations to expire on a few
"adventures" and a few governments to change before I can do that...
I was the first
Oriental dancer ever invited to perform at the Brooklyn Museum
in the early '60s,
but that was a dance at a gala (complete with camels and a baby
elephant for atmosphere!) and not a lecture or an officially "museum"
situation. It wasn't until 1970, when, thanks to those research
"credentials", I was invited to lecture and perform regularly at
the Museum of Natural History in New York, where I continued
to give 5 and 6 week video lectures bi-yearly for their Education
Center. In 1964, I was
the major subject of a segment of the documentary
"Only One New York", and, over the years, did innumerable
TV shows, among them Ed Sullivan (His censors made
me wear a robe under my Oriental costume!), David
Frost (You wouldn't believe what I went through before
I got on that show or how it came about!), Johnny Carson
(twice), Dr. Joyce Brothers, etc., etc. educating
all the way.
I understand that with living folklore, the one sure thing
is that it will change - almost daily, I'm most interested
in finding, preserving and presenting the "real stuff"
and teaching as much of it as I can, before it's all gone. So
much has already been lost just in the few years since I started
going "over there," and it is in imminent danger. Realizing early
on that the real ethnic
mainly group dances, and no matter how fast I could move, I couldn't
be a whole group all by my lonesome, if I was going to show the
beauty and variety of these disappearing treasures to the Western
public, I needed a dance company. It took a while. The Casbah
Dance Experience was born in 1978 and debuted officially in Lincoln
Center's Damrosh Theater later that year. It would be the
first time Guedra, Schikhatt and Gnaoua were presented
in concert to an American public.
entire reputation was in the balance and I was so scared,
the butterflies in my stomach needed beta -blockers. Casbah
opened with my group Guedra choreography, the wonderful
trance ritual that inspired my first overseas research trip,
combined with the Tissint Betrothal Dance.
As it ended,
there was dead silence. I thought my career was over. A couple
of seconds later, the crowd was applauding furiously and cheering:
I didn't have to go off and hide in a cave! The rest of the concert
went very well, indeed. We also got non-profit, tax-exempt status
as an educational institution that same year. Again, the first
in our field to do so.
too many concerts to mention:
- In 1972,
I was awarded the first grant ever given to a Mideastern dancer
-- to teach it to children and,
- in 1982,
a second for choreography (only two-time individual winner!)
from the New York State Council on the Arts,
- 2 Arts
Exposure grants to present 16 Mideastern and North African dance
shows in NYC public schools,
- 3 Community
- 3 Summer
- a continuing
Materials for the Arts grant,
- I gave
frequent lecture/performances at universities and museums around
the US, and,
- in 1973,
had a one hour TV special in Germany (Koln, WDR#1).
were several performances at Lincoln Center: first in 1964,
and again in 1970, both solo.
- In 1977,
the Program Director of the Outdoor Summer Festival hiring me
- again, for 2 solo shows with a live band - had to put his
job on the line to do so because so much misinformation still
prevailed. Thanks to rave revues, the director kept his job
and, as a result, my dance company, the Casbah Dance Experience,
in 1978 and was invited back in 1982.
Casbah and I
were invited to perform at the Statue of Liberty Centennial and
for many different cultural events and organizations. There were
countless shows for the N.Y.C. Department of Cultural Affairs: solo
lecture/ performances, duets, concerts with the entire Casbah Dance
Experience, the Delacourt Dance Festival - solo (Anahid
Sofian opened that venue to Oriental dance and the
quality and class of her performance made it possible for others
to follow!), Riverside Dance Festival (only dance company
invited to appear there 5 times!). Casbah was the first dance company
officially hired by the United Nations to perform in its Dag
Hammerskjold Auditorium. They knew my work because I'd soloed
a few times for the General Assembly, which lead to invitations
to perform in the USSR. I wrote the script for and appeared in "Belly
Dancing: Midriff Myth" -- a half hour video produced by the
University of Wisconsin/Madison that won several awards for them,
gave 4 annual bi-lingual lecture/ performances (French/ English)
for Dar America in Marrakesh, Morocco, was one of the first
inducted into the AAMED Mideastern Dance Hall of Fame (American
Academy of..) as "World Class" for "International
proliferation of her art, her myriad of talent and for her untiring
pioneering in this, her chosen field of ethnic dance", was
named 1997 Instructor of the Year by IAMED (International Academy
of Middle Eastern Dance) , was voted Best Dancer and Best Instructor
and Casbah Dance Experience was named Best Troupe of the Year 2
years in a row by Mideastern Dancer Magazine, Ethnic Dancer of the
Year in 1997, Instructor of the Year in 1998 and Award for Lifetime
Achievment in 2001 by Zaghareet Magazine.
A major thrill
for me came in July, 1999, when, along with Dr. Barbara
Sellers and Shareen al Safy, I was invited
to Cairo, as one of the keynote speakers, where I presented the
paper I had first given in 1993 at Lincoln Center in New York
City for combined conferences of the Congress on Research in Dance
and Society of Dance History Scholars on "Dance as Community
Identity in Selected Berber Nations of Morocco" and also
gave 2 dance workshops, one in Raks Sharki (Oriental Dance) and
the other in
and Schikhatt and performed, at the international conference of
the UNESCO organization ICHPER-SD (International Council on Health,
Physical Ed., Recreation - Sport and Dance). While battery-operated
cassette players, VCRs, MTV, mass export of mindless US TV series
and fun phobic phony "fundamentalist" governments/ mindsets have
done more to change/ kill what's left of traditional dances and music in
the last 20 years than in the previous 2000, and, on top of that,
young people don't realize that they don't have to throw out the
old to have the new, those same portable videocams, tapes and CDs
have opened many new roads for learning and sharing and many dancers/
teachers/ researchers/ musicians have produced videos and music
for us. We can watch dance excerpts
from Egyptian films of the 1940s and '50s and see the toned-down
and "Hollywoodized" bits from the great dancers of Egypt. I was
privileged to see Samia Gamal, Tahia Karioca and
others dance live many times before they retired. Pity
filmed any of their full-length live shows, so different from anything
you see them do in the films, in which their dance had to take
a very back seat to the story and the censors' mental scissors,
but it is far better than nothing, since now all of them are gone.
We can see full-length color videos of most of the Egyptian names
of the 1970s and '80s and a few of the current Lebanese stars:
wonderful! So far, I've made and released 7 full length videos: 5 in 1984,
from my on-site super-8 films of my 1977-82 research, one of my
dance company's 1986 award - winning concert at the Riverside Dance
Festival and one in 1997 of the concert at the Haft Auditorium,
featuring Nadia Hamdi from Cairo and several East Coast dance stars.
I do have plans to make some teaching tapes - hopefully soon.
Oriental dance fans' need for dance-related shiny, beaded items
created whole new industries in Egypt and Turkey that didn't exist
there before. Our ideas for useful class and costuming
items have had an effect on costuming over there (those coin and
beaded hip wraps, just to name two!) and we now have several venders,
who regularly import from there and vend at our seminars and by
mail. There are several excellent American designers and venders
of the theater fantasy "Tribal" and "Gypsy" outfits, body stockings,
skirts and jumpsuits for giving and taking class.
many are first drawn to this dance for widely varying reasons
- some of them having to do with the Orientalist and Hollywood
malarkey - most want truth, even those who first came for
the fluff and found it was far better and more complex than
they ever imagined.
gives us the wings that brought us where we are today. Most of
my jobs now are in places that wouldn't have thought twice about
slamming the door in my face in the 1960s. I know because I tried
and they did, but I kept coming back with more and more proof.
Haven't stopped. Won't. There are still too many fine dancers
having shows cut or not getting hired because of ignorance and
misinformation, but we have learned to rally and write letters
of support for each other.
by little, the barriers crumble, because we know that it takes
perseverance, valid facts and classy presentations, so we
keep coming up with more and more of them. The level of ability
and seriousness of the "average" student and performer are
far, far higher than they were when I started. I'm thrilled
with the progress Raks Sharki and Shabiyya have
made in the West over the last 42 years.
Me? I would've
done what I did anyway, because I am totally insane about this
subject, but you have no idea what a joy it is to be able to share
it with so many others. How long do I intend to continue? It's
stated very clearly on my condensed bio: "Till six weeks after
Loving Remembrance and
Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever Was, Part 1
by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu. I looked at her and
said, “If I can’t do better than that, I’ll
hand in my feet!” A case of having more guts than brains.
Loving Remembrance &
Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever Was, Part 2
by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu. So
much great stuff; so little time to see and learn it all. So much
of it disappears down the oasis daily.
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for other possible viewpoints!
The Bellybus by
For a dancer to be what she is, to dance, she must be
free. For a woman to be a full and equal member of our society
she must be free to make her own choices about what is best for
by Majida Anwar
My aunt was coming! I knew there was going to be dancing, and
I could feel the butterflies just flying into in my stomach!
Rakkasah West Festival
Photo Teaser March 2004, Richmond, California
by GS Volunteers including: Biram, Clare, Cynthia, Krista, Lynette,
Michelle, Monica, Sandra, Valentino, Yasmine and probably more!
Let us know if you recognize faces!